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Unknown Fathers in CPS and Termination Cases

Child Protective Services (CPS)

This article lays out what happens when the identity of a child's father is unknown, for CPS and termination cases.

Learn the steps you need to take to identify an unknown father when parental rights are being terminated by CPS or another party and what to do if they cannot be identified.

What happens in a CPS case when the father’s identity is unknown?

Court may become necessary if the child and family are involved in a Child Protective Services (CPS) case.

A parent or another family member should provide CPS with as much information as possible on all possible fathers. If possible, a parent or child’s other family member should provide any alleged father’s full legal name, any aliases, address, phone number, email address, place of employment, along with the employer’s address and phone number.

As explained above, in a CPS suit under Texas Family Code chapter 262, if the last name is unknown, including an unknown father, the court may order substituted service of citation by publication. This may include publication by posting the citation at the courthouse door for a specified time. This would happen if the court finds and states in its order that the method of substituted service is as likely as citation by publication on the public information website maintained as required by Texas Government Code 72.034, or in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.

The steps and process for citation by publication can be difficult. The respondent’s answer date may also be calculated differently when service is by publication. You should speak with a family law attorney about this process if it is needed in your CPS case.

Speak with an experienced child welfare attorney about Child Protective Services (CPS) issues in Texas through the Family Helpline (TLSC) or by calling (844) 888-6565.

What happens in a suit to terminate a father’s parental rights when the father’s identity is unknown?

The rights of an alleged biological father may be terminated if his identity and location are unknown and the child is over one year of age at the time the termination petition is filed. Texas Family Code 161.002(b)(2)(A)

If the child is under one year of age at the time the termination petition is filed, and the alleged father has not registered with the paternity registry, then Texas law does not require personal service of citation or citation by publication on the alleged father. There is also no requirement to identify or locate an alleged father who has not registered with the paternity registry under Texas Family Code Chapter 160Texas Family Code 161.002(c-1).

Citation by publication, as explained above, is an available method of service in a suit to terminate the parent-child relationship under Texas Family Code Chapter 161. However, personal service and citation by publication are not required in certain situations. Talk to an experienced family law attorney about what will be required as part of your termination suit. 

The parent seeking to terminate should provide the court with proof or a certificate they checked the Texas Paternity Registry to show no man has filed to claim paternity of the child. Read and use the guide I need a paternity order if you believe you are the alleged biological father of the child and want to assert your rights to a child. Texas Family Code 161.002(e).

What will the court do after service by publication on an unknown father?

In a CPS case where the department is seeking termination of the parent-child relationship, the court must appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of:

  1. A parent served by citation by publication;
  2. An alleged father who failed to register with the registry under Chapter 160 and whose identity or location is unknown; and
  3. An alleged father registered with the paternity registry under Chapter 160, but the petitioner's attempt to personally serve citation at the address provided to the registry and at any other address for the alleged father known by the petitioner has been unsuccessful. 

Texas Family Code 107.013.

An attorney ad litem appointed to represent the interests of a parent whose identity or location is unknown or who has been served by citation by publication is only required to do the following:

  1. Investigate the petitioner's due diligence in locating the parent;
  2. Interview any party or other person who has significant knowledge of the case who may have information relating to the identity or location of the parent; and
  3. Conduct an independent investigation to identify or locate the parent, as applicable.

If the attorney ad litem identifies and locates the parent, the attorney ad litem must do the following:

  1. Provide each party, and the court, the parent's name and address, and any other available locating information—unless the court finds that:
    • Disclosure of a parent's address is likely to cause that parent harassment, serious harm, or injury; or
    • The parent has been a victim of family violence; and
  2. If appropriate, assist the parent in making a claim of indigence for the appointment of an attorney.

If the attorney ad litem cannot identify or locate the parent, the attorney ad litem will submit a written report to the court of their efforts to identify or locate the unknown parent. Once the attorney ad litem completes their job, the court will release them from their role in the case. Texas Family Code 107.014.

The court cannot render an order terminating parental rights unless the court finds the petitioner exercised due diligence in attempting to obtain service on the alleged father. The order shall contain specific findings regarding the exercise of due diligence of the petitioner. Texas Family Code 161.002(f).

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